Here’s the simplest way to start differentiating for your advanced students in any field within language arts:
Students Need Interesting Examples!
This is the biggest win. Get rid of dull, “grade level” samples and find authentically fascinating examples of the English language. Remember, my goal is always interesting, not merely challenging. So gather actually interesting books, paragraphs, sentences, phrases, and words.
As a teacher of gifted students, I had to be really careful about using the materials provided by my district. The “advanced” writing samples were like finger paintings compared to what my students could produce. The “advanced” reading materials were, well, anything but. In their spare time, many of my students were reading the same books I was reading (as I did when I was their age)! Then, during “reading instruction” they’d have to study something way below their capabilities.
A Few Tips
Read an actually good book aloud to your students everyday. This one’s cheap and easy. Even into high school, I loved hearing my teachers read. And I mean good books. Something you love. Introduce your class to great authors. Your kids will get to see an adult engaged in text (I was blessed to have a dad who read voraciously, but for many kids their teachers are the only adult readers in their lives). I’ll never forget Mrs. William’s hilarious voices and accents as she worked through The Witches.
Investigate the Jr. Great Book program. This was one of the few things our gifted program spent money on and it was incredible. Juicy, interesting stories that led to great discussions, writing prompts, vocabulary, and so on. This is worth the money – but you’ve gotta do their training. It’s essential!
Get class sets of actual books! This is where I spent my personal classroom money (and Scholastic points!). Each year, I was able to build up another class set of novels. We were always reading actual books. In my case, this included: The Westing Game, A Wrinkle in Time, and even The Time Machine (which was “too hard” but still valuable).
Leverage writing in the public domain. Use Project Gutenberg to copy and paste text from classic writing. I’d use work from Shakespeare, Poe, Jules Verne, and Lewis Carroll. No need to read an entire piece, but grab juicy paragraphs! Borrow a single sentence! I’ve got a few of these samples over at Byrdseed.TV.
This also means you should gather interesting words! Just because it’s on a spelling list doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Instead, encourage an exploration of:
- Shades of meaning in synonyms
- homonyms and multiple-meaning words
- Words with Greek or Latin roots
- Even nonsense words?
- Some students might like the idea of antagonyms — a word that can mean two opposite things.
In short, advanced kids need advanced material to work with. And, in language arts, that means getting juicy examples of the English language in front of kids every day.
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